The skeptics insisted it would never happen, that electric cars couldn't compete with internal combustion a century ago, and -- until cheap, powerful, and dependable batteries arrive -- they never will.
At Automobile Magazine, we beg to differ. Three electrically driven cars from major manufacturers are on the U.S. market today, and others are on the show circuit or under development for future introduction. In other words, the barrier blocking this alternative to internal combustion has been lifted. While mainstream traffic will continue cruising straight ahead, a new exit ramp is open for those who are anxious to experience the latest powertrain engineering advancements. Electric propulsion is Automobile Magazine's 2011 Technology of the Year.
You should have seen this coming. We celebrated hybrids as our Tech of the Year in 2000 and 2008. Last year, lithium-ion batteries earned the prize. Five manufacturers are now building factories in the United States to supply the budding electric-car industry with advanced batteries. General Motors and Nissan have invested billions to engineer, produce, and market the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf to the first wave of mass-market electric-car customers.
Although the arrival of suitable batteries and huge capital commitments are the electric car's great enablers, the driving force behind them is a burning need for more efficient transportation. Engineers have achieved major fuel economy increases attributable to lighter materials, aerodynamic bodies, and vastly improved powertrains, but those gains are incremental compared with the efficiency strides that are possible with electric propulsion.